Kia’s 2024 EV9 Stands as First Mainstream 3-Row EV
Thoughtful engineering and exceptional driving dynamics make Kia’s EV9 a compelling competitor in the still-limited market of 3-row EVs.
It may be time for Kia — or its Hyundai and Genesis siblings — to deliver a lousy vehicle. It’s becoming a broken record to praise every new Kia for its sophisticated and often class-leading design, engineering and performance.
For EV fans, Kia’s 2024 EV9 is poised to continue the brand’s winning streak. As the first 3-row electric SUV from any mainstream brand, the EV9 driven at Kia’s Mojave Desert proving grounds, for now, doesn’t have a straight-up competitor. Instead, EV9 presents a compelling alternative to a luxury Rivian R1S or Tesla Model X, with a roomier third row than either, for vastly less money.
A handsomely geometric shape and near-Kia Telluride size might suggest otherwise, but the EV9 shares its e-GMP platform with smaller Hyundai Motor EVs. A 122-inch (3099-mm) wheelbase extends nearly 8 inches (203 mm) beyond the Kia EV6’s or Telluride’s wheelbase. The third row carves out 39.5 inches (1003 mm) of headroom, 1.5 inches (38 mm) more than an already-roomy Telluride.
The evolving e-GMP platform is key to a library-quiet interior. Ride-and-handling felt on secure par with many luxury EVs, as SAE Media ran the EV9 through dynamic handling courses, a “choppy road” section, offroad runs and a 7-mile (11.2-km) oval at up to 110 mph (177 km/h).
So why does this Kia drive so well? Steve Kosowski, Kia manager of long-range strategy and planning, said that like the high-performance, 577-hp EV6 G, the EV9 adopts dual ball joints in front lower control arms to boost steering feedback and stability. That includes secure braking in tricky “split-MU” situations in which useful traction is limited to wheels on one side of this SUV. That tech traces back to Albert Biermann’s work on the legendary BMW E39 5-Series, when Hyundai Motor’s recently retired R&D chief made his reputation with BMW.
“That kind of artful engineering has really progressed, to make an SUV that weighs 5,800 pounds (2722 kg) feel the way it does,” Kosowski said.
The Kia’s load-bearing battery pack, shielded by an aerodynamic underbody, plays its own role. Sixteen peripheral bolts link the pack to extruded-aluminum rocker members. Eight more bolts run vertically into floorpan crossmembers. The resulting rigidity boosts handling and NVH – Kia
claims the EV9 is quieter than key rivals, including the far-pricier Mercedes-Benz EQS 4Matic – because “you don’t have to futz with dampers or bushings to make up for flex in the architecture,” Kosowski said.
Plenty of propulsion choices
The 400V/800V e-GMP architecture, versus the 400 volts of Teslas and most other EVs, allows signature speedy charging times at up to 236 kW, potentially stuffing the standard 76.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack from 10% to 80% in less than 25 minutes. Models coupling a 201-hp rear-axle traction motor with the standard battery are more dawdling in accelerative terms, but AWD models offer an optional 99.8-kWh battery and a synchronous axial-flux motor at each axle that combine for 379 hp and up to 516 lb-ft (700 Nm).
The EV9 also integrates slick two-stage inverters that can deliver higher voltage with less motor inductance for robust throttle response. The oil-cooled axial-flux traction motors integrate square-wire windings for a better fill factor and efficiency gains. Kia designs its electric motors, inverters and controls in-house to control critical characteristics such as NVH, linear power delivery, cost and quality. “That’s a critical discipline that makes sense to not outsource,” Kosowski said.
Top dual-motor versions scoot to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.5 seconds and stop from 70 mph (113 km/h) in 176 feet (53.6 m), both beating the Mercedes EQS, Kia claimed. An optional heat pump HVAC system helps preserve driving range that maxes out at a company-estimated 300 miles (483 km), or a minimum 250 miles (402 km) for the powerful GT Line trim. An onboard vehicle-to-load (VTL) output can supply 1,900 watts of continuous power for camping, tailgating, laptops or other gear.
A desert off-road run showed off a maximum 7.8-inch (198-mm) ground clearance, while the 2024 EV9 also has a hill-descent feature. Hook up a trailer – 5,000-lb. (2,268-kg) towing capacity – and a tow-mode calculator figures the impact to driving range, as on Ford’s F-150 Lightning.
Inside, standard dual 12.3-inch LCD screens sandwich an optional 5.0-inch HVAC screen, a striking presentation that recalls Lucid’s luxurious “curved display.” Haptic dashboard switches are less welcome, but at least there are only six in total. But Kia’s wide range of regenerative braking, with five steering wheel-paddle-selectable levels – from free coasting to a robust one-pedal driving mode – is something more EV makers should adopt. The brand also plans to offer a hands-free, SAE Level 3 ADAS with dual lidar sensors, though not at launch. The company joined a consortium of seven automakers that plans to build a nationwide network of 30,000 DC fast chargers using both CCS and NACS connectors, with the first stations planned to open in summer 2024.
The EV9 goes on sale in the fourth quarter of 2023, with pricing that starts at $54,900 for the rear-drive EV9 Light and runs to $73,900 for the GT-Line e-AWD; destination adds $1,495. Production at the Hyundai Group U.S. manufacturing site in Georgia is set to begin sometime in 2024. Kia’s ambitious electrification plan calls for at least 70% of U.S. sales to be EVs by 2030. And if Kia keeps delivering models as smartly designed as the EV9, it might just hit that target.
Charging with Quasar 2
Owning an EV means never paying for gasoline again. With bi-directional charging, EVs can cut home electricity bills, power residences during blackouts and help balance the electric grid to ensure a steady power supply.
Wallbox demonstrated its second-generation Quasar 2 unit at the EV9 media drive, using the bi-directional charger to run a microwave oven and other appliances with roughly 1,900 watts of continuous flow from the Kia’s battery pack. Meanwhile, Wallbox executives said that using the Quasar 2’s vehicle-to-home capability – converting the vehicle battery’s DC current to AC for the home at up to 11.5 kW/48 amp – the EV9’s largest 99.8-kWh battery could power a typical home for up to four days during outages.
The Quasar 2 can automatically switch between grid and vehicle via its Power Recovery Mode. As a home charger, the Wallbox unit converts AC grid electricity to DC and sends it directly into a vehicle battery at up to a 11.5-kW rate. The two-way unit also can channel the DC output from solar panels, with app-based programming via WiFi, 4G or Ethernet.
The Quasar 2 system, which Kia plans to begin offering in early 2024, “turns EVs into energy assets,” said Doug Alfaro, Wallbox chief business officer.
As EVs proliferate, their batteries are poised to become massive sources of stored power around the globe — but only when utilities and consumers buy into the idea and systems mature. Some studies suggest that hooking even modest percentages of EVs into the grid could solve short-term storage needs by as early as 2030, lessening the need for more grid energy capacity.
The Wallbox unit can take advantage of today’s demand-response programs from local utilities: Charging your EV when rates are low and drawing from EVs when rates are high. Kia executives claim the Quasar 2 could save a typical consumer from $75 to $100 a month on electric bills. In an ultimate goal, utilities could begin paying consumers to distribute the excess electricity stored in their vehicles.
“Utilities are under the gun to reduce their carbon footprint,” Kia’s Kosowski said. “As these vehicle-to-home and vehicle-to-grid systems proliferate, utilities will be more and more interested in renting that EV capacity.” At the time of demonstration, Kia and Wallbox had yet to name a price for the entire bi-directional charging system.